ROB OWEN | Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023 10:31 a.m.
Netflix confirmed filmed-in-Pittsburgh “Rustin” will play in at least one Pittsburgh theater beginning Nov. 3 before it streams on Netflix on Nov. 17. Netflix has not confirmed which Pittsburgh theater (or theaters) will show the movie.
Netflix also released a new second trailer for the PG-13-rated bio-pic on gay Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin. Rustin is credited with planning Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington. “Rustin” was filmed mostly in the Pittsburgh region, but the march itself filmed in Washington, D.C.
‘Reel Money’ panel
Citizens Bank will sponsor Reel Money: Building Pittsburgh’s Film Economy, an evening of conversations at the Black Bottom Film Festival (BBFF), 4-5 p.m. Oct. 27 at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, 980 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh.
The free program will explore the steps required to elevate Pittsburgh to the ranks of cities with larger film and television economies (e.g. Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta).
The panel discussion will feature Gregory Edwards, dolly grip and a member of the Pittsburgh Film Office Board of Trustees; Pittsburgh Film Office executive director Dawn Keezer; University of Pittsburgh broadcasting Prof. Kevin M. Smith and actor/writer/director Roger Smith.
“Reel Money” is free and open to the public. Register to attend at https://awc.culturaldistrict.org/event/26350-2023/bbff-citizens-panel
To Morgan Overton, the primary goal of the newly-formed career training program CREATE PA: Film & Theater Works! is both fully attainable and urgently needed.
“We want to expand what training means for folks who want to contribute their skills and talents to film, theater and entertainment,” Overton says. “CREATE PA is an investment in the people who make these stories come to life. These are all the folks who are the unsung heroes behind the scenes. We want to find them and let them know this is a profession where you can stay home in Pittsburgh.”
Overton, 29, was hired in May by Pittsburgh Public Theater to serve as the workforce director of CREATE PA, an innovative job training initiative undertaken by the theater and the Pittsburgh Film Office, with the intent to provide a steady supply of on-site technical workers for Pittsburgh-based film and stage productions.
Those would be the workers listed in the credits at the end of a movie and on the back pages of playbills — carpenters and electricians, set builders and decorators, makeup and hair stylists, grips and costumers, even animation and accounting staff — the “unsung heroes behind the scenes,” without whom the bulk of commercial live and filmed entertainment could not be produced.
While their names may be listed in small print, creative sector workers make a sizable contribution to the Pennsylvania economy. According to a 2021 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, arts and culture production brings in $28.6 billion to Commonwealth coffers and employs more than 165,000 full-time workers who benefit from $14 billion in compensation.
In Allegheny County, the latest available report from Americans for the Arts in 2017 cites more than 32,000 full-time local arts and culture jobs accounting for $641 million in household income.
CREATE PA is a potentially transformative investment boosting the state’s growing creative economy and has received $675,000 in first-year funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, and the Allegheny County Gaming Economic Development Tourism Fund.
Taught by experienced IATSE union members, CREATE PA classes are tuition-free, and each trainee is paid a stipend to participate. Upon graduation, trainees automatically qualify for placement on the permit list for local union film and stage productions.
Registration for CREATE PA classes is available online.
A Penn Hills native, Overton most recently served as manager with the City of Pittsburgh’s Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access following a two-year stint as a community engagement and policy associate with the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.
Overton’s Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and master’s degree in social work in community organization and social action led her to a decade of volunteer and intern work with Obama for America, Young Democrats of Allegheny County, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Pittsburgh City Council. She is currently serving her first term as vice chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.
She’s also a skilled visual artist, whose design and drawing talents would unquestionably land her in CREATE PA classes, if she was not already administering them.
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NEXTpittsburgh: How has the response been following the initial announcement of CREATE PA?
Morgan Overton: Very exciting. In the first two weeks, almost 200 people signed up and said, “Hey, count me in; keep me posted on what’s going on.”
NEXTpittsburgh: What’s been the general age range of respondents?
Overton: From teenagers to people in their 60s. I created a follow-up survey to kind of unpeel the layer of who these people are and why do they want to do this. And people have so much eagerness of, “How do I contribute to make this come to life?”
NEXTpittsburgh: It sounds like there are a lot of people who have wanted this training but didn’t know where to find it in our area.
Overton: That’s one thing that sets CREATE PA apart. When people think of workforce development, they tend to think of the traditional mindset of an institution that has all the skills teaching the people on the ground. Rather, it’s the other way around — the people have the talent and the skills we’re nourishing, so that with CREATE PA training, they can do gig work and be sustained, and they don’t have to go to New York. They don’t have to go to L.A. We want Pittsburgh to be the landmark place where talent stays to thrive.
NEXTpittsburgh: You yourself are a very prolific painter in multiple media — watercolor, oil, acrylic. How long have you been involved in that?
Overton: Ever since I could blink. I’m very lucky to have parents who poured into me and said, “Let’s just see what sticks with Morgan” — and everything stuck! I always had creative things at my disposal, and art classes were the first thing I took. I was in band. I danced ballet. When I went to the University of Pittsburgh for undergrad, I majored in psychology because I thought I wanted to be a scientist, which did lead me to work at Boston Children’s Hospital for two years in the cognitive neuroscience lab. But I also wanted to keep the art element a part of my life, so I minored in art at Pitt. That’s where I was formally trained in the fundamentals of painting, drawing, design.
NEXTpittsburgh: Your artwork was recently exhibited in the U.S. Capitol Building.
Overton: Yes, the last week of April. I was invited by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker to honor the contributions of Black women across history, present and future, and uplift the movement to name April as International Black Women’s History Month. I Stand on Their Shoulders featured several of my paintings placed around the first floor of the rotunda in the Russell Senate Office Building.
NEXTpittsburgh: You’ve created a lot of memorable portraits of political changemakers like James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Shirley Chisholm, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Kamala Harris.
Overton: Art has been a means for me to amplify my people and our history, our present, our future.
NEXTpittsburgh: Your portrait of Antwon Rose II is especially compelling.
Overton: I did that in 2019 with his mother’s permission, to honor him and his humanity. For me, that was the moment I realized art really is a platform for activism. It is a way to give language to people who might not have the words, but they see something and they start to understand, “OK, this is the story. This is the humanity of what this person is trying to convey through oil paint, through watercolor.”
NEXTpittsburgh: Beyond the always welcome investment in local arts and the people creating them, are there other important results that might come from CREATE PA?
Overton: We have to think about the arts as a critical piece to economic development to sustain communities. The goal is to grow and diversify the creative workforce and make sure we’re centering the communities who feel shut out, like the doors are just cemented, right? Women, Black people, brown people, people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, people with disabilities, low-income communities. They are critical assets to what sustains a community and what allows it to thrive.
It takes a person to be a door. That’s something my dad always says, and I am so grateful to have Shaunda McDill, the managing director at Pittsburgh Public Theater, and Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office. I want to make sure I speak their names because they are two dynamos who believe in this work and are making it come to life.
If we don’t make those opportunities accessible for folks, then they’re going to look elsewhere. I know that was me when I left Pittsburgh after completing my undergrad studies. I felt like there was nothing here for me. While in reality, everything that could have been for me was over here, but I had no idea to look in that direction.
Conceived by Pittsburgh Film Office and Pittsburgh Public Theater leaders, the initiative plans to train behind-the-scenes workers for union jobs.
By SHARON EBERSON
Two dynamos meet at the Duquesne Club. When the meeting is over, they shake hands, and Create PA: Film & Theatre Works! is on its way to becoming a reality.
On Feb. 23 of this year, Dawn Keezer, who for nearly 30 years has headed the Pittsburgh Film Office, met with Pittsburgh Public Theater managing director Shaunda Miles McDill, who previously was with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Heinz Endowments. It was McDill’s third day with the Downtown theater.
Morgan Overton, left, is the Workforce Director of Create PA, the brainchild of Shaunda Miles McDill (center) of Pittsburgh Public Theater and Dawn Keezer, head of the Pittsburgh Film Office. (Images: Sharon Eberson)
In speedy-delivery time from the room where it happened to fruition, on Wednesday, May 30, Create PA was launched. The program aims to train behind-the-scenes skilled workers for union jobs, creating a sustainable local workforce earning a livable wage while also making Pittsburgh a more attractive place for film and theater projects.
It is said to be the first partnership between theaters and television producers of its kind, outside of New York.
To introduce the program, a press conference was held at the Public’s O’Reilly Theater home, attended by PA Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Sen. Camera Bartolotta (46th District), IATSE Local 489 president Mamie Stein, Felicity Williams, Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Ed Gainey, Public Theater artistic director Marya Sea Kaminski and other dignitaries and principals in the partnership.
Pittsburgh native Morgan Overton, a visual artist with an MSW from Pitt, and the former Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, & Access Manager of Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey’s Office, has been named Workforce Director of Create PA.
One of the initiative’s main goals is to facilitate partnerships within the community and to keep talented Pittsburghers here, helping to attract business and grow the economy generated by the entertainment industry.
“How can we make Pittsburgh be the place where talent thrives and it stays to thrive?.” Overton asked. “We’re a region of bridges, but we need to act like it. This is our time. This is such a beautiful window of opportunity for the next generation.”
It is anticipated that Create PA will attract “high quality talent and develop their skills for behind-the-screen and behind-the-stage crew positions, including grips, electric, hair, wardrobe, carpentry, set decorating and accounting.”
The program has $750,000 in funding for its first 12 months, with more grants pending. Initial contributions were from the Commonwealth of PA, and the budget includes a Richard King Mellon Foundation grant for hair/wig training.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Austin Davis was in Pittsburgh on May 30 to attend the launch of Create PA at the O’Reilly Theater.
Asked about how Create PA might coalesce with existing training programs in the region, Overton said, “I’m a policy wonk, and usually my way of approaching how to go about things is identifying what already exists. What are the relationships that people, especially our unions, already have with schools, with arts Institutes, communities? Identify those, and find where are the gaps here. And then, do people even know that these units exist? Do people know their pathways to cosmetology schools? Do they know that these trainings exist? That’s a matter of just building relationships.”
Through its partnership with local unions, Create PA is planning to pave a path from training to skill to jobs, where no clear entryway was previously available.
“We have over a hundred professional and community theater companies in the Greater Pittsburgh area. We have over 10,000 people who are employed and we generate over a hundred million dollars in revenue for the city,” McDill said of the theater community. “So we’re excited about the way in which this expansion can move us forward. Also I’m excited about getting in Dawn’s Rolodex …”
A running joke by Keezer throughout the press conference was how she has the cell phone number of everyone in the room, and she’s not afraid to use them.
Her ferocity on behalf of the Pittsburgh Film Office also was noted by more than one speaker at the press conference.
Lt. Gov. Davis noted that, “I’m so glad that the Pittsburgh Film Office is leading in this way. I know they’ve been a leader here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. If any of you know Dawn Keezer, if you look up persistence in the dictionary, she’s here. But she is constantly pushing to make Pennsylvania a leader in this industry. And today’s partnership exemplifies that, and we’re so happy to be a part of it.”
Keezer told a story about how she got to know Fitzgerald, when she initially could not get permission for filming in a county park. One phone call to the Exec, and it was done.
“There are a lot of people that have had jobs in Southwestern Pennsylvania, in this industry, because of what Dawn has done, what the Film Office has done,” Fitzgerald said, standing beside movie posters of Fences, The Dark Knight and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
“We all know the list of the great movies and the great productions and the great TV series, etc., that have been filmed here,” said the Jeff Daniels look-alike. “And now with Create PA, we’re going to make sure that we have enough people to work in those industries – not just the folks that we see in front of the camera but the folks that are doing all the instrumental work … The industry is growing, and it’s growing here because we know how to do it.”
Fitzgerald thanked the Lieutenant Governor and Sen. Bartolotta for the state’s support in a program aimed at ‘workforce development and providing opportunities for young people, which is really at the heart of so many things that they want to do.”
Lt. Gov. Davis said it was “wonderful to be Downtown to celebrate this partnership rooted in arts and culture, as well as labor and workforce development, two areas that I’m very passionate about.”
He also noted that his parents supported his family in careers that didn’t require a college degree, so he understands the value of a skilled workforce that isn’t solely reliant on higher education.
“I was really proud that in the early days of our administration, I stood alongside Governor Shapiro as we kept our promise and signed an executive order, eliminating the need for a college degree for 65,000 Commonwealth jobs here and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Lt. Gov. Davis said, adding, “Our administration recognizes how impactful cultural amenities are to the fabric of our commonwealth. And I’m happy to be here today to support this new partnership between the theater and the film industry, to train more people for behind-the-scenes and behind-the-stage work. This work is critical. It helps us to become more informed and human as we engage with art and culture, while simultaneously employing thousands of people providing a future for families and careers for young adults, whether they are college bound or trade-school bound. This initiative will support rising professionals and emerging youth in achieving their career goals and provide job training. while connecting communities to an area that many feel they can only dream of participating in.”
CREATE PA: Film & Theater Works! is a joint project of the Pittsburgh Film Office and Pittsburgh Public Theater. In conjunction with union locals, they’re expanding a Film Office program that offers training for crew jobs like electrical worker, grip and hair stylist. Wardrobers, carpenters, set decorators and accountants would also be trained through the program, for either stage or screen work.
For most of Pittsburgh’s big theater companies, the season is winding down. And film and TV productions have been halted for weeks by the writers’ strike. But Wednesday, in Downtown Pittsburgh, two local institutions announced a program to create new pathways to behind-the-scenes careers in the stage and screen trades here.
CREATE PA: Film & Theater Works! is a joint project of the Pittsburgh Film Office and Pittsburgh Public Theater. In conjunction with union locals, they’re expanding a Film Office program that offers training for crew jobs like electrical worker, grip and hair stylist. Wardrobers, carpenters, set decorators and accountants would also be trained through the program, for either stage or screen work.
“This initial training will give you enough that you’re going to be comfortable behind the stage or behind the screen when you show up for your first day of work,” said longtime Film Office executive director Dawn Keezer at the launch event, held in the Public’s lobby.
“This is an opportunity to be trained formally to be able to then participate in the industry in a way that I think people only dream about,” said the Public’s managing director, Shaunda McDill.
The addresses took place against a backdrop of posters for notable feature films shot in the region, including “Fences,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” The Film Office, which markets the region to the film industry, says film production is an important economic driver, bringing $2.5 billion in spending to the region since its creation, in 1990.
Other speakers Wednesday included Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, and State Sen. Camera Bartolotta. The latter is a Film Office board member and outspoken advocate for state tax credits for film and TV productions. Mamie Stein, president of IATSE Studio Mechanics Local 489, also spoke.
McDill introduced CREATE PA’s first and, for now, only employee: Morgan Overton, formerly Mayor Ed Gainey’s inclusion, diversity, equity and access manager. As the program’s workforce director, Overton is tasked with developing the program’s infrastructure and recruiting students. She starts work Monday.
Davis noted that many stage and screen crew jobs do not require college degrees. In that way, he said, the initiative echoed Gov. Josh Shapiro’s order eliminating a four-year college degree as a requirement for holding 65,000 state jobs.
Funding from the state’s Department of Labor and Industry kick-started the Film Office’s Pittsburgh Film Works program in 2019, Keezer said. Delayed by the pandemic, the initiative finally began last year and has since graduated three classes of 12 students each, of grips, electrical workers, and hair stylists. The free training sessions were held on a series of Saturdays. Prior to the writers’ strike, all 36 students were working in the field, she said.
Keezer said CREATE PA is unique outside New York City in training workers for both stage and screen — where many of the skills are the same, and so are the labor unions (though the locals can vary).
Those who complete the courses will be paired with a mentor and have a direct path to union membership, Keezer said.
She said CREATE PA has a $500,000 budget for its first year but that more funding is expected. She said she expected the program to expand across the state, and to eventually train “hundreds” of students.
Is there demand for all those film and theater workers? Keezer said she believes so. TV series like “The Mayor of Kingstown” and “A League of Their Own” have been shot here recently, as have films like the Tom Hanks feature “A Man Called Otto.” And plans are still moving ahead for The Film Furnace, a soundstage on a former steel-mill site in Rankin.
While CREATE PA is not currently accepting new students, more information is available at the Film Office web site.
‘Drive-Away Dolls’ marks the first feature film he has directed solo without his longtime compatriot and sibling Joel Coen. He co-wrote the original script with partner Tricia Cooke.
The title and release date of filmmaker Ethan Coen’s upcoming movie have been revealed.
Drive-Away Dolls will ride into theaters on Sept. 22, 2023, Focus Features and Working Title announced Monday. The comedy caper — which opens as the fall awards season gets underway — marks the first time Coen has directed a movie on his own and without his longtime partner-in-arms, brother Joel Coen.
Coen partnered with Tricia Cooke on the movie. They co-wrote the original script, and are producing alongside Robert Graf, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.
Drive-Away Dolls stars Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Pedro Pascal, Colman Domingo, Bill Camp and Matt Damon.
The story centers onJamie, an uninhibited free spirit bemoaning yet another breakup with a girlfriend, and her demure friend Marian who desperately needs to loosen up. In search of a fresh start, the two embark on an impromptu road trip to Tallahassee, but things quickly go awry when they cross paths with a group of inept criminals along the way.
Focus will distribute Drive-Away Dolls domestically, with parent company Universal Pictures handling the film overseas.
ROB OWEN | Thursday, April 13, 2023 7:36 a.m.
Production will wrap next week on season two of Amazon Freevee’s “American Rust,” which was filming Tuesday at S. Second Street and Grant Avenue in Duquesne.
The familiar sounds of Hollywood on the Mon echoed up the grassy slope of Grant Avenue Park: “Last looks,” “Rolling! Quiet please!,” “Cut!,” “Going again right away” and the occasional, “Bus coming through!” (Though S. Second Street was closed to cars, bus routes were not disrupted by the production.)
More than two dozen crew members, many clad in Iron City Grips T-shirts, worked on a scene filming on the second floor of an apartment building. Eventually a cherry picker-like lighting rig called The Condor was raised skyward. Then its light was aimed at the window where the scene was being filmed, presumably to create a sense of more sunlight outdoors.
The first season of “American Rust,” based on the 2009 novel by author Philipp Meyer, chronicled the exploits of Del Harris (Jeff Daniels), the Southwestern Pa. police chief who covers up a crime for the benefit of the woman he loves, Grace Poe (Maura Tierney). The first season premiered on premium cable channel Showtime in September 2021 and Showtime canceled the series in January 2022.
Amazon Freevee, which announced it picked up season two in June 2022 and will also stream the show’s first season, has not announced a premiere date for season two; my guess is it will be late summer or fall of this year.
In other news about local productions for streaming:
• Despite being set in Pittsburgh, the next filmed version of an August Wilson play, “The Piano Lesson” for Netflix, will shoot this spring in Atlanta, a nasty slap in the face to Wilson’s hometown. Alas, that’s showbiz. The first adaptation of “The Piano Lesson” was filmed in Pittsburgh starring Alfre Woodard and Charles Dutton and aired as a “Hallmark Hall of Fame” presentation in 1995. (The most recent Wilson adaptation, Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which did film in Pittsburgh, was a Wilson play set in Chicago.)
“We were disappointed to learn that ‘Piano Lesson’ went to Atlanta,” said Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer. “We had understood that all 10 of the plays in August Wilson’s cycle that [executive producer] Denzel Washington is turning into feature films would be filmed here in the Pittsburgh area.”
“The Pittsburgh film industry, much like the rest of the country, has not done a great job with diversifying our local crew base,” Keezer continued. “The Pittsburgh Film Office, in partnership with IATSE Local 489, has worked to address this issue and started a workforce training program with our program partner Reel Works, [a youth media and workforce readiness organization] based in New York.”
Keezer said the Pittsburgh Film Works program is unique as a partnership with the local union that’s focused on training people for jobs behind the scenes in film/TV/streaming production. A group that’s training in how to style hair among a diverse population of performers will graduate from the program in mid-May.
“Show business — it is a business,” Keezer said. “We’re going to continue to work towards increasing the diversity of our crew and increasing the film tax credit program so hopefully we can welcome them back once again in the near future.”
• Amazon Prime Video confirmed Wednesday what I’d previously reported – that filmed-in-Pittsburgh’s “A League of Their Own” will return for a four-episode, second and final season – although there’s still no definitive word about whether the production will be back in Pittsburgh. It would logical for the show to return since the production built a period ballpark at the CCAC Boyce Campus used in season one.
“We are hopeful for a return for season two,” Keezer said. “They had a great experience here with our amazing crew, diverse locations, wonderful local people and of course they participated in the PA Film Tax Credit program.”
• Still no word on Paramount+ renewing “Mayor of Kingstown” for a third season, but an official renewal seems likely as star Jeremy Renner continues his recovery from a January snowplow accident, walking the red carpet with a cane for his new Disney+ series “Rennervations” this week.
“The writers are at work coming up with scripts for a new season,” Keezer said. “All signs are pointing to the show coming back for a season three.”
“Kingstown” executive producer Hugh Dillon was back in Pittsburgh for Tuesday night’s Penguins game, which also suggests the show will resume filming in Pittsburgh later this year.
• Director Lee Daniels is back in Pittsburgh this month filming reshoots of scenes for his Netflix exorcism movie “The Deliverance” (formerly known as “Demon House”).
RIP Deb Docherty
Condolences to the family and friends of Pittsburgh casting director Deb Docherty of The Docherty Agency, who died this week at age 63 of ALS (AKA Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
Docherty founded the talent agency – for models and actors – in 1987 and expanded into Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati in 2002. She stepped away from day-to-day operations a few years ago after her ALS diagnosis.
In the shadow of the historical Carrie Furnace complex, film studios are on the rise.
Start with a sea of mud near the bank of a river. It’s hardly inspiring — not yet. But add some tax-credit magic and a dash of pixie dust. Voila: Pittsburgh really will be Hollywood on the Mon by 2024.
Ground was broken late last year on the construction of film studios at RIDC Carrie Furnace along the Monongahela River in Rankin, right next to the historical blast furnaces.
It will begin with a 52,000-square-foot structure to house at least two sound stages at a cost of $20 million, the vision of the Pittsburgh Film Office.
Next to this will be a 60,000-square-foot “tech flex” multipurpose building (a $15 million project). Once the latter is leased, a second, similar tech flex building will follow.
And all involved say there is room to grow.
This venture between the Regional Industrial Development Corporation and Allegheny County is “sort of the missing piece in our Mon Valley charm bracelet,” says Timothy White, RIDC’s senior vice president, business and development strategy.
The film office has assisted in more than 200 films and TV productions in southwestern Pennsylvania since it was established in 1990. And although the region has been home to major productions — ranging from “The Dark Knight Rises” to two projects about Fred Rogers — film crews on those projects have had to use retrofitted studios that began life as vastly different structures.
“We’ve made do with repurposed warehouses,” says Dawn Keezer, the director of the film office for 28 years. “We’re fortunate to have 31st Street Studios, fortunate we have the [former] American Eagle distribution clothing place out in Warrendale.”
Other local facilities have been used as sound stages, including spaces in Carnegie, Churchill, an airport hangar and the WQED studios in Oakland.
“But the industry has changed, the need has changed,” Keezer says. “The amount of technology that’s needed for these facilities to operate effectively and efficiently? People have different requests now.”
Silver Screen Gold Rush
MovieMaker magazine recently bumped Pittsburgh into the big leagues, naming it one of the top 10 big cities for filmmaking with its 2023 “Best Places to Live and Work.” (Atlanta was No. 1.) The magazine had previously ranked Pittsburgh a “small town,” based on its population.
But now “it can hold its own against much bigger cities,” MovieMaker editor Tim Molloy wrote about Pittsburgh. “Shockingly affordable, especially given its beautiful housing stock, it boasts architecture that begs to be filmed, rolling hills, countless bridges crossing its three rivers, and world-class museums, music and food.
“People who visit from elsewhere often wonder why no one’s ever told them how cool Pittsburgh is, so folks: We’re telling you now.”
Attracting film and TV projects is more competitive than ever. No one can compete with the likes of Los Angeles and New York City — and much more recently the state of Georgia, which has unlimited film tax credits to offset production costs. Then there’s the Great White North powerhouses of Toronto and Vancouver.
Yet other cities have jumped in. Louisville, Kentucky, for example, recently announced its intent to construct a $65 million studio. According to the proposal, the historic Louisville Gardens will be renovated to include 40,000 square feet of studio space in addition to retail, office and museum space. Groundbreaking is expected later this year with completion expected in 2025.
Kentucky has reinstated its film tax credit program, with 30%-35% of what is spent returned to the visiting projects. It’s capped at $75 million per year.
The greater Pittsburgh region, with a rich history bolstered by the story of George A. Romero and his “Night of the Living Dead” franchise, has done well for itself. It often stands in for other cities, such as New York — or Gotham — in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Washington, D.C., in some scenes of the series “Mindhunter,” Indianapolis in “The Fault in Our Stars” and, currently, Kingstown, Michigan, in the Paramount+ series “The Mayor of Kingstown.”
It’s even played itself on occasion — including in acclaimed films such as “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “Fences.”
When the Cinemax series “Banshee” moved production for its final season — from North Carolina to Vandergrift — producers say they were thrilled to find locations that actually were fitting backgrounds for the story set in a small Western Pennsylvania town.
But locations and come-as-you-are converted soundstages are not actual studios, and the RIDC project aims to attract even more projects.
“In 2021, we had 11 [major] projects shoot in southwestern Pennsylvania, a record-breaking year. They spent $338 million while they were here,” Keezer says.
Admitting she sounds “like a broken record,” she adds that there could have been even more projects. “We are getting an additional $30 million this year,” she says, referring to the film tax credits — shared throughout the state — that state lawmakers raised from $70 million to $100 million.
“Which is great, but understand, we had $250 million worth of applications. The program is still woefully underfunded and oversubscribed.”
There is no blueprint for what makes a city or region a shoo-in for production. In Nevada, where a total of 415 projects were shot between June 2021 and June 2022, the tax credit cap is $10 million per fiscal year, with any unused rolled over.
But the Nevada Film Office is part of the state government, which leads to “synergies with other state agencies and municipalities — and our services are offered free of charge to our clients,” says Danette Tull, production and communications manager.
Obviously, the Strip in Las Vegas is a huge draw. But many other sites are popular locations, including the Mob Museum (also in Vegas), ghost towns, Virginia City and the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, near the California border.
One of Pittsburgh’s most filmed backdrops is the Carrie Furnace itself, which has been used for numerous productions including the Christian Bale feature film “Out of the Furnace,” the series “One Dollar” and “Hemlock Grove” and even “Antiques Roadshow” and “American Ninja Warrior.” For the Showtime TV series “American Rust” — currently in production for its second season on Amazon Freevee — Carrie Furnace was the site of a key murder.
Building Stages and Partnerships
Recycling former brownfield sites such as Carrie Furnace — a remnant of the former U.S. Steel Homestead Works — has been aided by the commonwealth’s Act II of 1995, a law that “creates a realistic framework for setting cleanup standards, provides special incentives for developing abandoned sites, releases responsible parties from liability when cleanup standards are met, sets deadline for Department of Environmental Protection action and provides funding for environmental studies and cleanups,” according to the Department of Environmental Protection’s website.
For RIDC and the four municipalities (Rankin, Swissvale, the City of Pittsburgh and Braddock) involved, teaming up with the Pittsburgh Film Office was a logical next step.
“It really is a critical partnership to have that industry insight, combined with the real estate development knowledge that RIDC brings,” says Don Smith, RIDC president.
“We would be delighted to build out the whole site in the next year but the reality is, it’s an incremental process,” he says. “We will get the first set of soundstages up, the first tech flex building, and the market will respond to that.”
“We haven’t had neighbors for a long time but it is an opportunity to bring a lot of dollars into this region … [The Film Office has] proven time and again they can bring a lot of economic power and provide an awful lot of jobs,” said Ron Baraff, director of historic resources and facilities at Rivers of Steel. The nonprofit oversees the former furnace site, located in Swissvale.
To that end, the new facility will house a training center where some technical trades of filmmaking will be taught, such as electricians, hairstyle, grips and makeup.
This Pittsburgh Film Works program already has trained a group of grips and electricians, with hairstylists following last January. Funding for this comes from the film office, the state, Richard King Mellon Foundation and various economic development funds.
Unions such as IATSE 52, which represents motion picture studio mechanics and Local 489 (production technicians) and IATSE Local 798 (makeup and hair), help bolster the local workforce that will be needed for multiple productions.
Georgia on Their Minds
Keezer and an RIDC delegation traveled to Georgia in November to get an idea of what one member called “the Goldilocks tour” — the high-end facility, the low-end and the midstream.
“We drove more than 250 miles in less than 30 hours, and I never made it to Downtown [Atlanta],” Keezer says.
They toured EUE/Screen Gems, where the Netflix hit “Stranger Things” is shot. They went to the massive Trilith Studios just south of Atlanta, where Marvel Cinematic Universe films such as “Black Panther” and multiple “Avengers” installments were shot.
Trilith is one of the places in the country with what’s known as a “volume” soundstage. Imagine a capsule of screens (ceiling included) that can place the actors in otherworldly locations, such as those featured in Disney’s “The Mandalorian” or just down a country road. It represents something else that Keezer says Pittsburgh can aspire to, albeit on a physically smaller scale: working studios, facilities for scenery and costume fabrication and also a village complex including retail and housing.
For the Rankin project, the two new sound stages would be capable of being sectioned into smaller, multiple studios.
“It doesn’t have to be that big,” Keezer says, comparing RIDC Carrie Furnace’s potential to Trilith. “We have 54 acres down at Rankin, right? Six stages would be 300,000 square feet of stage space.
“This is a start. I don’t expect this to be the only soundstage facility in Western Pennsylvania, but I think what this does is, it gets us moving in the right direction to keep the work coming.”
Maria Sciullo is a Pittsburgh-based journalist whose coverage of arts and entertainment found her scrambling around the old Carrie Furnace site on numerous occasions. It remains an awe-inspiring location.
This article appears in the April 2023 issue of Pittsburgh Magazine.
90.5 WESA | By Zoe Fuller
Published March 16, 2023 at 5:30 AM EDT
On a recent February Friday, in the warm GRW Theater of Point Park’s University Center, sit a couple dozen undergraduate filmmakers. One by one, they pitch their project to the room, scouting for crew, talent and funding.
This is Pitch-Burgh, a networking event for film students in the Pittsburgh area where attendees pitch film projects and seek collaboration from peers.
Aditi Sridhar is an undergraduate film student at the University of Pittsburgh, and preparing to pitch her own upcoming short film “Aloo Poori.” It’s her senior thesis project, a film she will have to write, fundraise for, direct, edit, and submit by the end of the semester.
Sridhar said she hopes Pitch-Burgh might be where she casts the remaining roles in her films, and where she can start some buzz about her project.
“I’m just worried about, you know, keeping people engaged and keeping under the time limit and also not really being able to bring people into the world of the script to engage them,” said Sridhar.
Pitch-Burgh is attended by 11 local universities, from the larger state-related schools like Pitt and Community College of Allegheny County, to smaller private colleges like Chatham University and recent addition Westminster College. The event was put on by the Pittsburgh Film Office, and is the brainchild of director Dawn Keezer.
“It was probably three or four years ago [when] I met with some of the heads of the film departments at various universities and had found that they all didn’t know each other,” Keezer said. “There was no way for them to all be able to collaborate and communicate effectively.”
Events like this, Keezer hopes, can help to build the local film industry and accommodate those entering into the workforce. Pittsburgh has become an increasingly popular location for filmmakers, especially with recent productions including “A Man Called Otto” and “American Rust: Season Two.”
Online magazine MovieMaker ranked Pittsburgh in the top 10 cities to live and work in as a filmmaker for 2023, competing against institutions like Chicago, Il. and Montreal, Quebec. Pennsylvania’s 25% tax credit on projects primarily shot in the state is drawing productions nationwide, and Keezer hopes to see the incentives grow so the state can stay competitive.
“Gov. [Josh] Shapiro has already signaled that he’s going to support this industry. He’s planning on dramatically increasing the film tax credit program,” Keezer said. ”We’re currently at $100 million. Any increase is welcome because the program is always oversubscribed and under-funded at this moment in time, because we always have more work than we have credits.”
As production increases in Pittsburgh, education in film and media is finding itself in high-demand. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the number of Bachelor’s degrees awarded in visual and performing arts have risen 50% since 2010. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a Bachelor’s degree as the typically entry-level education for producers and directors.
In 2018, media arts center Pittsburgh Filmmakers closed their filmmaking classes that helped to supplement local colleges like Pitt and La Roche University in McCandless. Since then, these universities have been developing their own programs to meet the growing film industry. La Roche has expanded their program by adding a filmmaker-in-residence position and internship positions for students at local production studios.
Carnegie Mellon University began offering a bachelor’s degree in film and visual media in 2019. Programs are even beginning at the high school level, with WQED Film Academy and Point Park’s Camp Hollywood teaching teenagers filmmaking basics.
Teachers like Associate Professor Helena Vanhala of Robert Morris University are seeing the changes both in and out of the school halls, and how the film climate might be opening up new doors.
“I think Pittsburgh is a film city. Filmmakers come here because there are so many commercial films coming to town,” Vanhala said. “So there’s a big industry here, both for those who are commercially interested, but those who are also independent filmmakers. So this is a film city.”
Now more than ever, film students like Sridhar say they feel like they have a reason to live and work in Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh in general as a city is just such a small town energy with kind and caring people who want to help and not receive anything in return, which I think is rare to find when you enter the entertainment industry in bigger cities like Los Angeles or New York. So I do like that’s what excites me about possibly being in a place like Pittsburgh post-graduation, is that that community is a given.”
Come this April, the projects Sridhar and her peers pitched will be completed and submitted before graduation. Come next fall, Pitch-Burgh and the Pittsburgh Film Office will screen a selection of these works where interested audiences can see what kind of stories the next generation of filmmakers are telling.
On behalf of Women in Film and Media Pittsburgh
Presented by Jennifer Carriere, Local 161 Script Supervisor and Women in Film & TV-Atlanta member. In the last few weeks, Jennifer has done live online interactive workshops for New York Women in Film & TV, Women in Film & TV-Atlanta, Women in Film & Video-DC, and Women in Film & TV-Louisiana, on the topic: “How to Become a Script Supervisor and Get Jobs in 2023”. This free, online, live interactive workshop provides an enormous amount of education, covers the Script Supervisor’s responsibilities & Daily Steps A-Z, includes a live Continuity Breakdown workshop with a short script (everyone’s favorite), plus plenty of discussion and Q&A.
This is a free learning opportunity. There is no cost to you for this high-value 90 minute presentation on what it takes to be a successful Script Supervisor.
In 90 minutes, we cover:
-What does a script supervisor do?
-Why should you consider becoming one?
-Script Supervisor Daily Steps A-Z
-(and everyone’s favorite part) We do a Continuity Breakdown TOGETHER using a short script – tons of fun and really helps people see they can handle this job!
-Ask Me Anything Q&A + Discussion
As of now, we have presentations scheduled for Tuesday, March 14th @ 7:00pm ET and Thursday, March 16th @ 7:00pm ET that we would love for you to attend.
Tuesday March 14 @ 7:00 PM -CLICK THIS LINK:
Thursday March 16 @ 7:00 PM – CLICK THIS LINK:
* This program is not being conducted by Women In Film Pittsburgh. There is no expectation of a job offering and the group conducting this workshop is not directly affiliated with Women In Film Pittsburgh – we are providing a resource which the user should conduct their own due diligence prior to making any financial commitment.